Forty years of storytelling. In chronological order.
While it initially seemed to be an in-name-only television series, FOX’s “The Exorcist” has turned out to be anything but. As we learned in the fifth episode of the debut season, the story is actually a direct continuation of the original film, which has been pretty awesome for us longtime fans of the franchise. We don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the series, so we urge you to avoid the last couple paragraphs of this post if you haven’t.
Oh and WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!
At the time of writing this post, the first season of “The Exorcist” is coming to an end in just a couple days, so now seemed like as good of a time as any to do something I’ve been wanting to do since the show blew my mind with that big episode 5 reveal. The story that began in 1973 has continued in the form of two sequels, two prequels, and now a TV series, and I thought it’d be interesting to track the whole damn storyline in the form of a handy little timeline. After all, at its core, the whole franchise is about one main character: the demon known as Pazuzu.
We begin a long, long time ago…
The saga of The Exorcist begins around 500 A.D., as documented in dueling prequels The Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist. A large army, led by two priests, traveled to Kenya looking for the origin of evil, and there they met the demon known as Pazuzu. The evil force consumed them, and they all ended up killing each other. To mask what had happened and entomb the demon, a Christian Byzantine church was built over the site and then completely buried.
Buried, that is, until 1949.
His faith shattered by an incident involving Nazi soldiers, Father Lankester Merrin has taken a sabbatical from the church and is participating in an archaeology dig in, you guessed it, Kenya. This is where he comes face to face with Pazuzu for the first time, in the year 1949.
The excavation of the church is being done to recover the ancient Pazuzu idol, and of course, digging it up results in the demon being freed. In Dominion, the demon possesses a young boy named Cheche, but in The Beginning, it’s the dig’s female doctor who becomes possessed. In both films, Pazuzu is driven out by an exorcism conducted by Merrin, and they both end with Merrin’s faith restored.
But the demon isn’t done with Merrin just yet.
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was released in, and presumably takes place in 1973. At the beginning of the film, Father Merrin is on an archaeological dig in Iraq when he comes across a statue of Pazuzu, who he of course did battle with many years prior.
Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., a young Regan MacNeil plays with a Ouija board and unknowingly summons forth Pazuzu – Regan refers to the demon, which appears to her as a salesman with a red bird on his shoulder, as Captain Howdy. Her mother Chris MacNeil calls in Father Merrin and Father Damien Karras to exorcise the demon from Regan’s body, and in doing so, Merrin is killed and Karras becomes the new host for Pazuzu. Sacrificing himself to kill the demon, Karras jumps out the window, and presumably dies.
Well sort of. More on that in a minute.
The sequel The Exorcist II: The Heretic is set four years after the events of the original film, so we can deduce that it takes place in 1977. Regan, now 16 years old, confronts the horrifying events of her childhood at a psychiatric institute, and we learn that she was targeted by Pazuzu due to her ability to telepathically reach inside the minds of others.
Back at the Georgetown house, Regan battles the demon once more, though this time he is not inside of her. The film ends with Regan herself banishing her old friend Captain Howdy.
But perhaps it’s best we don’t even acknowledge the events of The Heretic.
We jump forward to 1990 in The Exorcist III, which primarily centers on Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (a character from the original film). The lieutenant is investigating a series of gruesome murders in Georgetown, and he comes to the conclusion that they’re the work of James “The Gemini” Venamun – a serial killer who was executed seventeen years prior. After the killer was executed, his soul entered the body of Damien Karras, who is still alive and being held at a psychiatric ward, and he’s also able to inhabit other bodies and force them to do his bidding. The soul-hopping, we learn, is the work of the Gemini’s spiritual master: a vengeful Pazuzu, who is still furious about being driven out of young Regan’s body.
Kinderman is eventually forced to kill Karras and end the nightmare.
Now forty-three years after the events of The Exorcist, Regan MacNeil is living in Chicago under the name Angela Rance. She has two daughters, Casey Rance and Katherine Rance, and when Casey becomes possessed by Pazuzu, Angela is forced to reveal her biggest secret to her family: she is Regan MacNeil, the little girl who was possessed by Pazuzu in the 1970s.
What Pazuzu really wants is to be back inside Regan, and in a moment of desperation, Regan gives the demon what he desires so that he will leave Casey’s body. Shortly after being taken over by Captain Howdy, Regan kills her own mother, Chris MacNeil, revealing that she is no longer Regan MacNeil or Angela Rance.
Regan and Pazuzu have now become one, four decades after their initial encounter.
What comes next? We’ll just have to wait and see.